Supporting in Crisis

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Aim of the research
According to current research evidence assessment is an important part of the design and implementation of projects highlighting the necessity and implementation of evidence-based interventions.  Therefore, the research part of the program “Supporting in Crisis” was based on the evaluation of the intervention so much on the needs assessment as on the level of effectiveness (content and process).
 
Method
For the assessment of the “Supporting in Crisis” Program of Teacher’s Education for the psychological support of children during the financial crisis, a complex and multilevel assessment model was designed and implemented. The program included the following levels of assessment a) needs assessment of the teachers and the school units, b) needs assessment based on the introductory seminars, c) assessment of the implementation of the activities in the classroom  and d) overall assessment of the program “Supporting in Crisis”.
Sample
Primary School Teachers and school administrators working in schools in Attica and cities in the vicinity participated in the assessment. 
Questionnaires for needs assessment were administered to 285 teachers who participated in the seminars of the program” “Connecting4Caring””. In addition, 106 questionnaires were completed by the teachers who participated in the introductory seminars of the program.  Finally, 117 teachers completed the questionnaires at the beginning and at the end of the program in order to evaluate the intervention effectiveness.
 
Measures of data collection

a) A questionnaire was constructed and administered to the teachers who participated in the initial seminar day with the aim of exploring the needs of teachers and the school setting. The questionnaire included questions concerning the consequences of the economic crisis on young students (psychosocial school adjustment, everyday life of students and their families) as well as the school’s operation.  Initially, there was a needs assessment at the individual level (teachers/students) and at a system level (school) for the psychological support of the educators and their students during the financial crisis.

b) For the investigation of needs for the psychological support both of the educators and the students during the economic crisis, the participating teachers at the program “Connecting4Caring” completed the following questionnaires : 

  1. scale of the perceived teacher stress;
  2. questionnaire on the prioritization of educational goals.

c) The implementation and the effectiveness of the activities of «Stories in the Class-Me» and “School boat WeC.A.R.E.” which were given to the teachers during the program, were evaluated through open-ended questions.  In particular these questions evaluated the process of implementation, its difficulties and the completion of every activity, but also, the benefits for the students and the teachers.

d) For the overall evaluation of the program “Supporting in Crisis” the teachers were administered pre and post the questionnaire “Schools as Caring Communities” and a questionnaire evaluating the training seminars of the program “Supporting in Crisis”. The complete evaluation of the program also included open-ended questions through which the teachers were given the opportunity to express their views. There were questions aiming to evaluate how the program was helpful to the students and the teachers themselves. Moreover, the degree of satisfaction and the effectiveness of the training were also evaluated by the teachers in terms of content as the process of implementation.

 
Findings
For all the open-ended questions a content analysis was carried out and responses were categorized on the basis of common thematic units that emerged from the content analysis. The percentages were analyzed using SPSS.
 
Needs Assessment
In summary, data analysis showed that there are significant financial consequences in schools due to the economic crisis. The problems range from lack in equipment and maintenance of buildings, to changes in the life of the students (lower allowance, no participation in cultural events), and intrapersonal and interpersonal behavior difficulties.  In particular, the teachers reported that an important consequence of the financial crisis is that the students cannot afford to participate in cultural events (57,9%) and school outings (57%) as well as they come to school with lower allowances (38,9%).  They also observed student problems of intrapersonal (33,5%) and interpersonal (41,6%) behavior.  As far as the operational part of schools is concerned they mention the lack of supplies (65%) and problems in the building maintenance (46,4%).  Finally, following the action taken by the schools, the collection of first aid material (such as food and clothing (54,7%) is organized.  
Through needs assessment it was apparent that the difficulties teachers face concern the socio-emotional needs of the students so much at individual level as at class level.  From the teachers’ responses it was apparent that the difficulties they come up with in class are primarily socio-emotional and secondly difficulties in learning.  Lesser attention was given to the lack of supplies. It was reported that there is need for interventions concerning the socio-emotional education of students at an individual as well as at a class level.
More difficulties are focused on teachers’ relationships with their colleagues and also in the school family relationship.  The above difficulties seem to be more severe in schools with high cultural, social and financial diversity in the student population. 
 
Evaluation of classroom activities
 
In terms of the evaluation of activities, despite the short period of implementation, the participating students and teachers seem to have benefited both on an individual level and on a group level.
 
“Stories …in order”
 
The benefits of the activity  “Stories … in order” on an individual level arose from the fact that students were given the opportunity to acknowledge their positive characteristics and foster their self-esteem and the support they get from the important relationships in their lives. On a group level, it contributed to the improvement of the relationships of the teachers and the students.  The above factors present important dimensions of the resilient classes.  In particular, teachers reported that the activities strengthened the following factors of the student’s resiliency : a) goal setting b) self-esteem and recognition of skills (benefits on a individual level) and c) improvement of relationships (benefits on a group level).  Examples of teacher responses from the thematic categories that emerged from content analysis are given here below.
 
a) Goals
  • The program helped them to set goals and achieve those.  This improved their self-esteem;
  • They realized they can achieve goals, that there are people that can help them but also that there are obstacles interfering with realizing these goals;
  • To understand that no matter what we do, it actually  is a small or a big goal that we try to achieve with or without help and if we are not successful we do not give up, we try again.
  • To realize that it is necessary to set goals, regardless of their success, and finding ways not to forget these goals.
b) Self-esteem / recognition of skills
  • They were satisfied when they realized what they had achieved
  • The children declared that they benefited from the activity because they redefined their problems and were encouraged by their success 
  • They spoke of themselves, they learned the process of setting goals and of revising their achievements. They liked it a lot. 
  • To believe in themselves and their skills. Their self-esteem was improved.
c) Improvement in relationships
  • Socializing, team behavior, improvement of relationships;
  • Self-awareness, improvement of behavior in relations to others;
  • They were able to articulate their thoughts to an important person for them.
In addition the teachers noted facts or children’s reports that impressed them, surprised or touched them during the implementation of the activities.  Teachers said:
  • I was surprised by the maturity of some children in relation to goal setting for behavioral improvement as well as their success and their ability to express themselves
  • I was surprised by the interest of some children in their school performance even though they seem indifferent in class and realized that their indifference was superficial in the end;
  • I was surprised by the fact that they tried to implement the majority of what we had discussed, which I believed they had not embraced them as goals;
  • It was a positive surprise when even the children with difficulties accepted to complete the leaflets;
  • I was touched by the fact that in a group discussion one student discussed his goal and how much he wanted to achieve it. He received the encouragement from the whole class;
  • While the children found it difficult to open up the first week, after this first time they wanted to repeat the activity.
The implementation of the activity “Stories…in order” helped not only the students but also the teachers to foster their resiliency through setting and achieving simple goals, as well as realizing of their sources of support.  In particular the teachers noted that on a personal level the particular activity improved the following dimensions of their resiliency: a) goals; b) relations; c) responsibility/participation; d)self- esteem/recognition of skills and e) recognition of positive characteristics. Some indicative answers are given here below.
a) Goals
  • To set small, daily goals;
  • To revise goals which were ineffective or difficult for the children and to readjust them.
b) Relations
  • I realized/remembered again things and persons that support me;
  • I  learned what the students thought and how they felt about me and how to improve my behavior to them.
c) Responsibility / Participation
  • We talked to the children about our own difficulties and the time we spend on seminars and union meetings;
  • I realized the student’s obsession with the cognitive level and I encouraged them to operate on a psychological level.
d) Self-esteem / Recognition of skills
  • I improved my self-esteem and learn coping strategies;
  • I realized the importance of certain skills and successes that I had taken for granted and had considered unimportant.
e) Recognition of positive characteristics
  • I was pleased to trace things that had escaped me in the pressing of time.
As far as the difficulties in the implementation of project “Stories…in order” are concerned, about one quarter of the teachers did not report any difficulties.  The remaining reported difficulties in its implementation in relation to a) setting and achieving goals; b) acknowledging students’ characteristics that helped them in achieving goals; c) lack of time and time management d) understanding of the activity and expressing students’ views.  These difficulties that the teachers faced during the implementation of the activities were mainly due to the students’ lack of experience with individual activities, goal setting and expression of their personal experiences.  
 
“There was a small boat”
The implementation of the activity “There was a small boat” at an individual level, gave students the opportunity to get to know themselves, their strengths and to improve their self-esteem but at the same time realize the support they get from the important relations in their lives.  At a group level the classes that implemented the program formed a climate of cohesion, solidarity and cooperation through which students could foster their resiliency.   In particular the teachers noted that the activity :  a) improved communication and the relations among students but also the wider climate of the class;  b) it strengthened the team spirit and the student’s cooperation;  c) it helped students to get to know themselves better, their personal qualities but also those of their schoolmates and d) it facilitated the common setting of goals.
A sample of the teachers’ responses is presented below :
  • It brought students closer to each other and strengthened their relations;
  • It helped bind the children’s relations as a team. It improved their relations and the class climate;
  • It helped them adapt more easily in their team and to improve their interpersonal relationships;
  • It helped my students psychologically. They felt better by creating a community connected by following the same path, having common anticipations and a common vision;
  • The children bound together more strongly and learned how to try all together and not individually for the common goal (they do not compete any more);
  • They discovered parts of their personality that were possibly “unknown” to them, they dared express them and develop them;
  • They managed to work in harmony as team members. They tried hard to achieve their goals.
Finally the teachers mentioned facts or children’s reports while implementing the activity; what impressed them the most, surprised them or touched them. Their answers focus on : a) the interest, spontaneity and willingness exhibited by the students during implementing the activity  b) the relations with other important people in their lives (parents, teachers and friends) and c) the change of attitudes due to self-knowledge gained from the activity and upon its completion.  The following were noted by the teachers.
  • I was moved by their zeal and their receptivity despite difficulties (understanding of target-role-execution). Their immediacy surprised me.  How pleasantly and effortlessly they were guided by the instructions;
  • Personally I was moved by the fact that in the group drawing of the boat, they drew me close to them.  The students wanted very much to “play” the boat every week;
  • Their need to feel accepted by the others; to have friends.  The violent burst of the children that are under pressure;
  • One student always wanted to do things his own way. This sometimes brought about ugly situations (shouts climaxing to crying, etc.) The team embraced him and he reached the point where he totally accepted and followed the rules of the team;
  • They came personally and confessed that the boat did not arrive to its destination but they would try again. 
As for the difficulties from the implementation of the program “There was a small boat” the teachers noted some difficulties in relation to a) setting and achieving goals b) the time needed for its completion and c) the students’ cooperation.  About half of the teachers did not change anything in the implementation of the activity while for the rest of them the activity’s flexibility gave them the opportunity to incorporate some changes and adapt the activity to the needs of their students. 
Overall the teachers reported that the implementation of the activities in class contributed in the following ways:  a) it improved both their communication and the relationship with their students b) they managed to realize not only the students’ skills but also their needs and difficulties c) it helped the students improve their cooperation and team work on a  class level,  but also on a school level and d) the educators learned about themselves and they also gained new scientific knowledge and practices that can help them support better their students. From the above responses given by the educators it is evident that the program contributed to the improvement of relationships between teachers and students but also between students through individual and team activities. 
 
Overall evaluation of the program
 
As far as the overall evaluation of the program is concerned the teachers were quite positive in their assessments.  In particular, they were asked if the thematic units were interesting, useful and how they evaluate their experience from participating in groupwork.  The largest percentage of the teachers viewed the seminar themes from quite interesting to very interesting (78,7%), while high percentage considered that they gained useful knowledge and skills (66%).  Finally 80,8% evaluated the program as quite good to very good (the upper scale) in terms of the experience gained from their participation in the experience-based activities as members of the groupwork during the seminars.
The teachers’ answers showed that the implementation of the program on a personal level helped them identify their skills, improve their self-esteem through setting daily goals.  The program also helped improve relationships both with their colleagues and their students. The teachers also realized the common problems and difficulties they face in schools which demand the understanding and participation in common actions.
Following the teachers’ answers it became apparent that their participation in the program had positive effects on their professional fulfillment.  The educators mentioned that they felt more sufficient in their role in the psycho-social support of their students and fostering a positive climate in class through establishing values of trust, acceptance, respect and mutual appreciation.  At the same time the teachers declared that they came closer to their colleagues and students also through the common participation in the activities.
The teachers also had the opportunity to make suggestions for the continuation of the program.  Their proposals can be summarized in the following categories : a) more experience-based activities b) extension of time allowed for the implementation of the program c) expansion to other school units and diffusion of information aiming to create a network of schools d)further education on specialized issues such as facing crises at school and e) more practical applications at school.
Concluding the analysis of the responses given by teachers on the evaluation of the overall program “Connecting4Caring” showed important benefits on a personal level, on a class level and on a school level.  More specifically, both the teachers and the students succeeded in improving their self-esteem and self acting through individual and group activities for building self-confidence and goal setting.  Simultaneously the participation in group activities empowered the relations among students and between students and teachers but also those with their colleagues.  The theoretical training of the teachers played a major role in the strengthening of their role as educators.  Overall the program responded to the psycho-social needs of the children and the teachers alike, as emerged from the evaluation of their needs while it contributed to establishing resilient classes and schools.   
 
Below are some example reports by teachers:
  • I discovered sides of my students that I hadn’t suspected they existed.  I now got a more complete picture of what the children face at home amidst the crisis.
  • I connected more closely with my students. I discovered aspects of their personality and family life that I had no knowledge of.
  • I felt more comfortable with my students in discussing the financial crisis and its negative effects.
  • I connected emotionally with my students.  I realized that if you help the children set their goals they try to achieve them with great enthusiasm.
  • I connected with the children on the theme mostly absent from the Greek educational system : the psycho-social aspect of life. I understood their needs more and realized that education does not primarily concern knowledge.
  • A freshness.  A new way in practical teaching.
  • Stronger bonds among students and between students and teachers were developed.
  • I looked deep inside and realized small successes in relation to my students. This fact filled me with hope and worked as a motive to continue trying.
  • I found ways, games, books we read with the children so we can feel “more like a team”. I was very pleased with the class’ response.
  • We were given an essential opportunity to cooperate with teachers from the same class and teachers from other classes but also with other colleagues and it all brought us closer.